Microsoft's cafes being designed for millennials and beyond

Published in FSD Update

Company sees high-quality food, reasonable prices and top-flight technology as ticket to business success.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

I like having cash in my pocket. I’m old-fashioned that way. When my pockets are empty, I feel poor, even if my bank account says just the opposite.

But for a growing number of Americans, particularly in those generations known as millennials and Gen We, cold hard cash is almost anathema. Not the concept of it, you understand, just its physicality. It is with those people in mind that Microsoft is fashioning its new foodservice program.

Microsoft recently renovated three of the 28 cafes at its Redmond, Wash., campus. According to Paul Egger, senior services director for Microsoft Real Estate & Facilities, it is the start of a remodel cycle that will eventually see all of the older cafes getting fresh faces. Egger says the renovations are designed to stem the tide of declining participation in the older cafes.

In addition to changing the model for the cafes from commissary-driven to from-scratch preparation, each of the redone dining spaces are being outfitted to satisfy a cashless society. Each station with a “new” café now has its own touchscreen ordering kiosk. Not only can Microsoft employees order their food electronically, they also can—actually, are expected to—pay for it at the same time they order.

Those dedicated staffers who don’t have time to stand around waiting for their food to be prepared can order and pay for their food online from their desk, with the ability to designate a time at which they will be done to pick up their order.

Cashiers haven’t disappeared, Egger says. Instead, they have been transformed into “ambassadors” who walk the serveries and dining areas assisting customers who have questions or need help working the new technology.

It is possible, Egger notes, to use cash—sort of.

“We still have a cash register at our espresso bars,” he explains. “If you have cash, you can go to the espresso bar and they will load it onto a debit card for you.”

The goal at Microsoft is all about saving time because, as we all know, time is money. Cafes that offer customers high-quality food at reasonable prices keep Microsoft employees from leaving campus for lunch or dinner, and technology that moves them through the café faster gets them back to their desks that much more quickly saves the technology giant big bucks.

“For every 1% increase in participation, we save Microsoft $4 million a year in lost productivity,” Egger notes. Talk about a plan that pays for itself.